Four years ago, Ryan Lochte was the world’s best swimmer, coming off a haul of five gold medals at the 2011 World Championships.
The 31-year-old feels like “the underdog” with the Olympics less than four months away and the Olympic Trials in a little more than two months.
“I would say there is less pressure going into these Olympic Games because my past couple of years haven’t really been where I needed to be,” Lochte said Wednesday. “Now that Michael [Phelps] is back and everything, I think I’m back to being the underdog.”
Lochte, Phelps and the other members of U.S. swimming’s Big Four — Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky — all compete in Mesa this weekend (broadcast schedule here).
It should be the last time they’re together at one Grand Prix-level meet before the Olympic Trials in Omaha from June 26-July 3.
Lochte expects to race the 200m freestyle and 100m butterfly on Thursday.
He’s also entered in the 200m butterfly and 100m backstroke on Friday and the 200m individual medley, 200m backstroke and 100m freestyle on Saturday.
Phelps is racing only one event per day — 200m freestyle, 200m butterfly and 200m individual medley.
Lochte and Phelps’ duels are always highlights at these domestic meets, but both are training to peak for the trials, so head-to-heads and even times in Mesa shouldn’t be dissected too much.
Lochte’s setbacks and struggles since he won three individual medals at London 2012 are more pertinent — a coaching change, significant injuries and doubts that reached retirement thoughts.
Lochte made the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in four individual events, but it’s looking unlikely that he can replicate that in Omaha.
Lochte ranked in the top five in the U.S. last year in two events — 200m freestyle and 200m individual medley. He did win his fourth straight 200m individual medley World title on Aug. 6.
But that field didn’t include then-punished Phelps, who had the fastest 2000m IM time in the world last year, or injured Japan superstar Kosuke Hagino, who beat Lochte and Phelps at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships.
Lochte and his mad scientist coach David Marsh threw a curveball in January, entering the grueling 400m individual medley at a meet in an Olympic-sized pool for the first time since May 30, 2013.
He won the race, beating the fastest U.S. man in the event from 2015 (Chase Kalisz) by 1.98 seconds. It marked Lochte’s first win in a Grand Prix-level meet in an event other than the 200m individual medley since April 24, 2014.
Lochte remained coy about whether he would swim that grueling race at the Olympic Trials. It’s on the first night of that meet and the Olympics.
Lochte, then the world’s best swimmer, destroyed the field in the London Olympic 400m IM by 3.68 seconds (where Phelps finished fourth).
Times have since changed.
“I haven’t really done anything the past couple of years,” Lochte said Wednesday. “But now that I’m back in shape, I’m training hard, it’s going to be interesting.”
VIDEO: Michael Phelps Under Armour spot